Unlearn and Learn

Have you ever wanted something but weren’t willing or wanting to do what it takes to get it?  I find myself in that place now.  I actually wasn’t willing but now I am.   I only became willing when I realized it wasn’t going to just come to me in a dream in the night.   I just don’t want to be patient while I wait.  Or rather work for it.

I have painted in acrylics for 15 years.  I have painted pretty contemporary for 15 years.  When you paint contemporary, to an extent,  you can make up rules.  Maybe not even,”to an extent”.  You CAN forget all the fundamental rules that we learn when we begin to paint.  Values.  Perspective.  Drawing.    I still paid attention to those elements.  Somewhat.  But there was clearly a contemporary bent to them.


“River of Hope”

So, since  I haven’t picked up a paint brush for two years, I thought it would be a good opportunity to try out the good ol’ oils again and paint using a more representational approach.  HOLY COW.     I have forgotten how to paint.   I have adopted so many  bad painting habits in the past 15 years.  Especially paint mixing.  I basically did not mix paint.  I’m not sure what I did but it is not translating well in oils.  AT ALL.

But I want it to.

But I don’t want to take the time to do it right.

The past few months I have tried to just FORCE the old habits into my painting.  One disappointment after another.  Well,  maybe if I paint another subject matter it will improve.    It’s like skiing.  I kept thinking that the reason I did not like skiing was the venue was not good.  Like Jackson,  Wyoming??  Colorado?   Come on.   I didn’t want to admit it was that I don’t know what the heck I’m doing.  That is why I don’t like skiing.  That is why I am AFRAID of skiing.    That is why I am afraid of walking into my studio these days or those days for that matter.  I was wingin’ it.    I don’t want to wing it anymore.  I look at  phenomenal  artist’s work all the time.  I want to paint like them.

So, I begin with a color chart.  Of 4 colors.  White.  Black.  Red and Yellow Ochre.  Mixing 120 colors that those 4 colors can make.

Color chart using white, black, red and yellow ochre

Pretty amazing you can get that many colors, huh?  Great exercise.  And I will only use those four colors ’til I get a good grasp.  Only then will I add more colors to my palette.  But still SOOOO much work to be done to GET WHAT I WANT.

I read that it is much better to paint from real life than from photographs.   I have painted from my maniac imagination for the past 15 years.  So, I not only have to mix paint colors accurately but I also at the same time have to look at a real object and interpret the shape, colors, values,  and perspective.  Sounds like chewing gum, walking, milking goats and eating pizza at the same time.  That is how foreign this is to me right now.   I used to know how to do it.  But I forgot.  It is not like riding a bicycle.

BUT…I want to do this right and I will go to any length it will take to get it right.  The easiest thing for me to do would be to walk away from it.  Go milk a goat that I cannot drink from.   Or paint the way I was.  But I feel a strong call from God to do this.  The last thing He wants from me is to “wing” a gift He has given me.   So  I WILL learn it.  Because He wants me to.   And like everything He wants for or from me, the end result is great satisfaction.   It is hugely rewarding and ultimately brings me and others joy.

I’ll let you know how its going.   I hope it doesn’t take the rest of my life to learn how to paint one painting.  But I guess that would be ok too.

The following painter, Anders Zorn,  is the “author” of the 4 color palette.  He has painted many beautiful pieces with just those four colors.

Anders Zorn    ( 1860-1920)

God bless,



Filed under Art, Spiritual

7 responses to “Unlearn and Learn

  1. I’m so happy to find your blog. I’m on the up and down travels of acrylic painting myself (you’re really getting it, this is great I’m great!!….. oh my goodness that’s hokey, yuck, golly I suck!) and I loved reading your experience, especially because you wrote it so openly and honestly. I’ve followed your blog and will look forward to going back and reading older entries and seeing how your journey goes!

  2. Cindy McCune

    I have really enjoyed your artwork whether you were “winging” it or not. Can’t wait to see where you are being led now! “River of Hope” is beautiful….if I would sit and look into it in contemplation, I think it would take me to even deeper places than I have ever been. John and I have talked about how we would love to have one of your paintings.

    • Thank you so much, Cindy! I actually have River of Hope here if you are interested in taking a closer look. I can manage to get it up to your house to hang for a little to see if you like living with it.

  3. Julie Brown

    Karen, you should never stop painting. You are much too talented to stop. I didn’t know you stopped for two years. If I was that good at something I would do it everyday. I have never seen a bad painting of yours….and although I am not an artist I am very critical. Keep painting

    • Thanks, Julie. That means a lot to me. I stopped because of this farm adventure. Getting it all done was a two year process. I didn’t want to come off sounding as critical of myself in the post as I did. The getting back to the basics has just been more frustrating than I thought. I had ventured further away than I thought. It is never good to stop practicing.

  4. eisa985

    Hi Karen,
    I am so happy to hear that you are returning to your craft. Even if it is a very diiferent approach i believe that you will be rewarded for your persistence and perseverance in using the gifts God has given you. You are a talented artist and I look forward to seeing how your work will develop.
    Elisabeth G.

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